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Keep in Touch

Keeping in touch is the key to staying actively involved in your grandchildren’s lives. Following are some fun ways to do it, no matter where you live.

Make plans for every holiday.

It’s funny how we go through phases of celebrating holidays. When you’re little, you count down to them with glee — holidays separate the days from, well, all the other days. When you’re dating, holidays are an excuse for social events. When you’re married, they become a new ritual. Not long after that, you get busy and may skip them altogether. Then you have children and start all over again.

By the time you have grandchildren, you understand the importance of rituals. You know how to celebrate, too! Celebrate as many holidays as you can with your grandchildren, and that doesn’t have to mean in person:

  • Have fun at Easter by dyeing eggs with your grandchildren. If you can’t be together, dye some eggs anyway and tell your grandchildren in an Easter card how you decorated them.
  • Halloween: here’s your chance to carve a pumpkin again, even if you live alone. Be sure to send a photograph of your creation to out-of-town grandkids so you can all enjoy it.
  • At Thanksgiving, write a note to your grandchildren telling them what you’re particularly thankful for from the past year.
  • During Hanukkah, send them chocolate gelt and ask their parents to give them each a “coin” from you after lighting the candles each night.
  • At Christmas, go to the mall and get your picture taken with Santa. Why not? Just tell Santa’s helpers that you’re a child at heart, then send the photo to your grandkids.

The holiday season is the busiest time of year for many of us. Lessen your holiday stress by remembering it’s the small family rituals that are the most important, not the yearly feat of pulling off the big meals and gatherings. Survive the holidays by emphasizing the love over the “perfect” plans. Be flexible. And have fun!

Start celebrating your birthday again.
  • Have your grandchildren count down with you, marking off the days on your calendars.
  • If they live out of town, make a birthday cake for yourself and tell them all about it.
  • Ask them to make a card for you by hand.
  • Tell them a story about one of the best birthday presents you received as a child, or tell them about a memorable birthday party.
  • You could even use your birthday as an excuse for a visit to out-of-town grandchildren — just remind your children that in Hawaiian families, all the relatives gather on Grandma’s birthday for a party that lasts for days!
Call them.

Call to say good morning or good night … without talking to their parents. Your grandchild will feel important getting a person-to-person phone call. Having someone who loves them at the other end of the line is an extra bonus! Rest assured, the call can be short (meaning inexpensive). After all, you don’t need to discuss world peace — and if you do, what better audience?

Even infants like to hear your voice. Don’t be hurt if they’re not in the mood to have the phone held to their ear when you call; tomorrow they might actually “talk” to you. There’s no dictionary for “babyspeak”, so just assume they’re saying “I love you.” And if you let your grandchildren know you love them, it won’t be long until they really are saying “I love you.”

Write letters.

Whether you are down the block or across the country, all you need are a stamp, pen and paper to show you care. A letter can be many things, from a short note on a shopping list to a postcard of a frog. They’ll get the message.

Even if your grandchildren can’t read yet, receiving mail will make them feel important. They will love being read a message that is especially for them. Once they memorize the contents (quicker than you might think), they will pretend to read it to themselves.

Preschoolers will enjoy recognizing some letters of the alphabet and will be motivated to learn to read. For elementary-age children, not only will getting the letter be fun, but reading it will also be good practice. If you’d like to write but aren’t sure what to say, mention times you shared recently or activities coming up.

One grandmother got the idea for mailing letters to her grandchildren when she was a little girl away at summer camp. Her bunkmate’s grandmother sent articles, pictures, and comics in the mail. That little girl decided to be that kind of grandma when she grew up. See? Grandparents have far-reaching influence. Maybe your grandchildren will pick up this fun habit and do the same for their grandchildren. And so on ...

Remember their friends.

Write down the names of your grandchild’s friends. Ask about the friends by name. Even if, as with many children, their friends change weekly, at least one name will probably remain consistent. Your grandchild will appreciate that you cared enough to try. Think how pleased you’d be if your grandchild asked about your friends!

Learn your grandchild’s schedule.

Remember on what day your grandchild has a special activity, class or practice. Then, when you call, write or see them in person, you can ask about how his day went. If you have the opportunity, visit his class, go to a game, etc. so you know what the experience is like for your grandchild.

If your grandchild is one of those who will answer “fine” until the cows come home when asked questions about how his day went, or what he thought about a recent experience, try coaxing details this way: ask your grandchild specific questions but, on purpose, get one vital detail glaringly wrong. For example, ask what he did at so-and-so’s house when you know very well that he was at another friend’s home. More than likely, your grandchild will want to straighten you out — not only about whose house he was at, but what activities they did there. Sometimes it’s most clever to act like you’re not so clever.

Emphasize things you have in common.

Most kids love having things in common with their grandma and grandpa. Every time you mention something — anything — you and your grandchild have in common, watch for your grandchild to smile. Whether it’s that you both hate sand in your shoes, you both like bubble gum, or you both love getting mail, it makes no difference. The more, the better. Pretty soon, your grandchild will be pointing out things they believe you have in common. Perhaps this game helps develop cognitive thinking. The important part is that it makes them feel close to you. Try it; you’ll see.

Send teeny-tiny mementos.

Kids love getting surprises. Stickers, a headband, or coloured shoelaces are tangible proof you care. Even a box of raisins can be a good surprise — almost anything unexpected is a treat.

However, if you are a frequent visitor with your grandchildren, don’t bring gifts every time. They should look forward to you, not the gift. After all, you are the best gift they’ll ever have. If you have more spending money than the parents, help where it counts, with nappys or dancing class.

If you still can’t resist, once in a while treat the parents to some unexpected goodies such as fresh bagels or real maple syrup. They need attention, too.

Share your favourite childhood book.

Read it to them time and again and you’ll be forever connected to that favourite story in their minds. Or send a copy to your grandchildren for

Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education